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Interesting New Research on Helping Your Spouse

This may be good news to women who exhaust themselves providing help and support and to the men who love them.

Researchers Erin E. Crockett and Lisa A. Neff studied gender differences in what support from a spouse does for our stress levels (or, in the more precise language of researchers, our cortisol slopes). Help from a husband reduced stress (increased the slope) in women. But supportive acts from a wife increased stress (flattened the slope) in men, regardless of how stressed they were otherwise or how satisfied they were with the marriage. The harm was greatest for the men who perceived themselves as worse at problem-solving.

If you're waiting for your husband to need you or to appreciate all you do for him, your expectation is not only making you miserable; it's likely making him less healthy. Do less. Enjoy him more.

And if you are a guy who wants less help or a woman who wants more, be sure to tell your spouse. We all gauge these things through their meaning for us, and this is yet another area where our experiences are likely to be different just because of our hormones.

To read more:

Wishing you many loving moments this Valentine's Day!


Interesting research to say the least. I'll definitely bear that in mind in future. As ever communication is key... I feel a chat about this coming on tonight... oh OK maybe tomorrow, maybe not the most romantic talk on Valentine's Day!

Thanks Patty, you're a star

Thank you, Grace!

I am reading this at the most opportune time. My fiancé and I are in a very painful spot this afternoon, partly because of how much I do for him. I'm the person who commented a while ago on a "Third Alternatives" entry about my fiancé who is an inmate--so how do I do less for him when everything I do for him is very important? I send him money orders (he has no one else for this support), I put money on his phone account, I paid ~$50 to print out 2 sets of pictures of celebrities to repay someone who did him a favor (he didn't ask me before agreeing to this arrangement), I call the warden about once a month even though I feel like the warden hates hearing from me (and I hate calling people). I am resenting how much I do for him but some of these things have pretty serious consequences if I stop them, and the rest of them will put quite a wedge between us if I stop them. This morning he said all of these things are not hard to do and I act like I'm climbing a mountain for him.

Is the answer is expect love? I want to enjoy him more, I really really do.

>> all of these things are not hard to do and I act like I'm climbing a mountain for him.

This is what resentment does to us. He expects you could do these things with no effort. You feel like you are climbing a mountain for him and want something comparable in return.

Then you do them anyway, convinced he needs you to do these tasks, even more than he needs your love and willing generosity, which are shut off while you're feeling indispensable. And now you expect even more in return for your sacrifice.

While your fiancé's options for managing without your help may be more limited than other men's options are, this happens in all sorts of relationships, not just those separated by distance or bars.

He really needs clean shirts to go to work and cannot imagine why she won't take them to the laundry and pick them up before he runs out of shirts again. But she can't, because while she's running errands, she's fuming, feeling he has no respect for her home-based business and she's now housewife and working mom both. She has no energy for her work when she returns with his shirts.

He can't cook anything more difficult than instant oatmeal, but he's watched her cook and believes it's easy for her. But she learned from her father, and she's miffed over the role swap. Having someone cook for her feels like love, and she's not getting any.

If you are the one expecting your partner to take care of something because you believe it's less work for them, you can regain your happiness by dropping the expectation.

If you are the one expecting more gratitude than you're getting for doing something that's less work for you, you can regain your happiness by letting go of the expectation of reward or by doing less.

Yes, in the short run, your partner will have a tough time and feel even less grateful. If it's a bad enough time to ruin the relationship, there probably was not much love in that relationship. But when you keep on dishing out resentment instead of saying no (or can I help you find another way?), you are withering your relationship while trapping your partner in a place where it's not OK to take care of his own needs.

And, as the research in this article reports, taking care of his own needs can do wonders for a man.

Thank you so much for your reply Patty! To clarify, he is the one saying I act like I'm climbing mountains for him. ("All that stuff you do for me isn't hard and you act like you're climbing a mountain for me.") I actually really do want to do these things, I want to do anything I can for him, so I will work on letting go of the expectation of my own specific brand of appreciation, and do my best not to bring up how much I do for him since all it does is stress him out.

Just make sure you are not stressing yourself out, too, Teresa. If you bring up how much you do for him, it is questionable whether you actually enjoy doing these things.

It is also possible you DO enjoy them, but you have not yet honestly told him what YOU want, thinking you must somehow earn it. If he wants to love you, you don't need to earn it.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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